Today is the last in a seven-day "surge" being conducted in Aurora by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their supposed target? Deportable aliens who have been arrested, or those issued court summonses who are fugitives or who have been previously deported or convicted of crimes. It's the summonses part that's causing immigrants and advocates to worry and protest, including at a vigil last night.
Last night's vigil was organized by the American Friends Service Committee, which holds monthly vigils outside the GEO detention center in Aurora. Yesterday's was focused on protesting ICE's increased presence in the city, which the AFSC sees as "a step backwards for the Department of Homeland Security in Colorado."
"I received fearful calls from Latino and immigrant members of my church as rumors flew this weekend," Pastor Anne Dunlap of the United Church of Christ said in a statement. "People reported hearing that ICE and police officers were pulling people over and waiting outside grocery stores. They told me ICE's unasked-for presence in our community made it feel dangerous to come to church."
The fear Dunlap described may stem partly from the fact that ICE seems to have changed its story about what the surge would entail. On Friday, the agency issued a statement saying that officers would be reviewing traffic summonses in Aurora. Two hours later, a spokesman amended it to say ICE was reviewing court summonses, not traffic summonses.
Father Steve Adams of St. Pius X Catholic Parish and a leader with Metro Organizations for People suspects the community won't know the definitive outcome of the surge -- in other words, how many undocumented folks were targeted -- for a while. "Everybody was laying low because they were afraid," he says. "They didn't want to go to the store, they didn't want to do the normal things they would do. That's the part that's really sad for me. We make these folks live in fear and they keep coming and keep staying here because living in fear here is better than where they were before."
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But Adams, who was not at the vigil, says the immediate casualty of the surge is the immigrant community's loss of trust in law enforcement. He and others say the Aurora police department has worked hard to develop trust so immigrants aren't afraid to report crimes. "ICE came in without any regard for the relationships that they have formed with the community," he says. "They basically threw law enforcement under the bus."
If any good has come from the situation, Adams says it's been the way the community pulled together. "A lot of folks really helped and made this somewhat understandable to a lot of people who were really worried and really frightened," Adams says. "The sense is that as a community here, we're stronger now than we were before."
Page down to see more photos from the vigil. More from our Immigration archive: "Immigration enforcement program phase-out won't allay advocates' worries."